At the end of Parshat Vayechi, Yaacov dies. Or does he? The Torah uses the term vayigvah, “he expired”, וַיִּגְוַע which leads Rashi to say Yaacov never died. More on Yaacov not dying here at parshablog.
In an illuminating essay on Rashi by Elie Wiesel, Wiesel cites a Hasidic text that claims that Rashi did not die a natural death; rather, he ascended to heaven alive.
What is this about people important to us not dying? I will leave that topic for another post or another poster.
Getting back to Rashi: Rashi certainly made an impact on Elie Wiesel. “He had been sent into this world mainly to help Jewish children overcome their fear of ancient texts.”
So who is Rashi? For an introduction, you could read the Wikipedia article on Rashi to find out he was a commentator on the Torah and Talmud who lived in France from 1040-1105. Or you could read Wiesel’s essay to find out why so many find Rashi’s commentary so essential to the study of Torah and Talmud:
“His commentary is never an end but a beginning, an eternal beginning. It begs for more, always more. Thus the student, the reader becomes his associate, his partner, his fellow seeker. Together they go deeper and deeper into the secret workings of seemingly simple words in complicated sentences.”
More on Rashi’s effect on Wiesel:
“Also, I remember, as a child, I would be so happy to stumble on one of Rashi’s confessions of not knowing. For then, in turn, I could avoid the tutor’s question by saying: if Rashi doesn’t know, how can I know?”
Who is Elie Wiesel? Elie Wiesel is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, a Nobel Prize Laureate, and Chairman of the ‘The President’s Commission on the Holocaust’. And a prolific author.
What do Rashi and Elie Wiesel have in common? Both survived periods of great tragedy in the Jewish community. Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, lost most of his family in the Holocaust. Rashi and his community were spared the massacres of nearby communities in the Crusades. Both have used their experience with tragedy as a way to teach the next generation. Wiesel writes about Rashi:
“Some of his commentaries on Psalms resonate with his pain over the tragedies that befell his people in his own time.”
This essay and others, including one on the tragic King Saul and one on the enigmatic, humble but not timid Rabbi Tarfon, are part of Wiesel’s book, Wise Men and Their Tales, Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic Masters.
Finally, if this introduction to Rashi has whet your appetite, I also recommend What’s Bothering Rashi? by Avigdor Bonchek, a set of books that may help you understand how the commentator came up with his explanations of the text.